Monday, 12 August 2013

A Grand Day Out - on a budget

AS any parents of young children will testify, going out even for a day requires a level of planning that is akin to a military operation.

Making sure you have enough food, water, snacks, money, spare clothes, wet weather gear - the list is endless.

It can also be expensive - travel, entrance tickets to museums or other attractions, food, drinks, snacks and a visit to the gift shop - it can all mount up.

But it need not be like this. With a veritable cultural and entertainment feast right on our doorstep I was determined to prove that living in South London need not mean bankruptcy to keep the little darlings entertained.

Eager to put this theory to the test, I embarked on a visit to the South Bank on Sunday last week with my two children - Lucy, eight, and Tom, four - to see if it was possible to enjoy a day out without it costing me the earth.

We set off from our home in Brockley armed with sun cream, packed lunch, snacks and water in a rucksack that wouldn't have looked out of place on a trek to the Himalayas.

Our one day travelcard cost £7.90 - not bad considering it would have taken us anywhere within zones one to six.

Once at Waterloo we walked up to Southbank Centre pausing to see the skaters in the Undercroft and some of the street entertainers along the way.

For those on a budget, the Southbank Centre offers the perfect opportunity to have fun and spend little in the process.

Every day there is something on within the complex which you can enjoy for free - whether it's a workshop, exhibition, performance or even just sitting in its riverfront café to eat your sandwiches and watch the world go by.

And Sunday was no exception. Under the umbrella of Festival of Neighbourhood the weekend was devoted to Urban: Celebrating Street Culture featuring a series of BMX, Parkour and dance workshops and demos as well as a chance to take part in some of the performances.

So the three of us joined the huge crowd on the Royal Festival Hall terrace and had fun busting some moves and grooves to a mix of street dance, hip hop and breakdance tunes which were being blasted out via an enormous sound system.

We were also wowed with a BMX bike demo inside in the Clore Ballroom where a group of professionals showed off their skills and tricks and Tom had a go at some of the free basketball workshops.

As well as all the Urban cool there was plenty more to see and do.

This included Beano Town tucked underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This interactive, and free, exhibition pays homage to the legendary comic The Beano which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.


Despite having never had the pleasure of chortling at the antics of its characters, Lucy and Tom wasted no time in getting stuck in - from playing table tennis to looking at the comics, climbing on the sculptures and trying on wigs and Dennis the Menace jumpers. They also added their names in the tree house.

Elsewhere we explored the walkways by the Queen Elizabeth Hall to see the allotment project, Queen's Walk Window Gardens. This included a trail of 60 wheelbarrows full of plants, as well as a roof garden created in partnership with Cornwall's Eden Project, the herb garden on the Riverside Terrace and the other giant installations and sculptures around the complex.


Perhaps the most fun to be had were the fountains outside the Royal Festival Hall. Both kids dived straight in and trying to dodge the jets of water without getting soaked was all part of the deal with much merriment to be made in doing so.



And before we had to go home there was just enough time to build a sandcastle in the specially created beach down on the river front opposite the skateboarders in the Undercroft.


Apart from the travel card, the only other thing I parted with my cash for was an ice cream for Lucy and an ice lolly for Tom - both bought at the market outside Canteen at the back of the Royal Festival Hall.

At £2.50 each it wasn't as eye wateringly expensive as it could have been, and given I'd spent nothing all day save for the travel card, it wasn't too bad.

We didn't buy lunch because we bought our own which we ate outside whilst soaking up the atmosphere.

By about 5pm we were exhausted, covered in sand, but having had a lovely time.

And while the South Bank isn't the only place where you can do things on the mega cheap, there can't be many institutions which will allow you to eat your own sandwiches in its building whilst listening to or watching some free concerts or performances.

And not only did I not hear the words "I'm bored" the entire day, the kids loved it so much they want to go back this weekend. Result

Beano Town is on until Sunday, September 8. Entrance is free.

Check and for full listings of events throughout the holidays.

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